Letter: School start time…delayed again?


To the editor:

The implementation of the 8:30 school start time for this fall died a quiet death at the school committee meeting last week. .. and it is nothing to cheer about.  

Another years’ worth of our students will not reap the benefits of a school start time that is better synchronized to their sleep-wake cycles. Their associated sleep deprivation will put them at higher risk for stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, motor vehicle accidents and impair their academic and athletic performance.

Research from the National Sleep Foundation has shown that only about 40 percent of middle schoolers and 13 percent of high schoolers get the recommended 9 hours sleep they need. The results of the Barrington Challenge Success Study show that by the time our kids graduate from high school they are averaging just 6.4 hours of sleep on school nights. 

While enforced bedtimes, evening light exposure to screens, and homework requirements are all important influences on the amount of sleep teenagers get, the most potent and best studied determinant of sleep duration is school start time. 

The overwhelming evidence behind this prompted the CDC and the AAP (American Association of Pediatrics) to release impassioned policy statements in 2014 recommending that no middle or high school start earlier than 8:30. 

In a more recent metanalysis (published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine) that combined data from eight high quality studies, the average amount of additional total sleep time that teens got in districts where start times were delayed by 60 minutes or more was a whopping 53 minutes! 

This is further proof that the assumption that students will just stay up later if they start school later is simply not true.

The implementation committee worked very hard this past year to overcome many obstacles to start time change, such that no athletics would be sacrificed, day care at the school would be provided and busing costs would be lower than anticipated. 

For a progressive, thoughtful community that takes pride in the high quality of its school system it is a shame that after five years of deliberations we are still dragging our feet on implementing this straight forward, low cost, and high yield measure. 

What are we waiting for? Concerned parents and students look forward to the school committee clarifying its stance on this critical health and wellness initiative at the April 27 meeting. 

Michael Johnson, MD



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Dr. Johnson, thank you for your article. The science continues to grown, not subside, with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine endorsing later start times for middle and high school students just this month. Unfortunately, there are some that find the science inconvenient, and it is, change is always difficult, but other districts have faced the same challenges and have successfully adjusted to a healthy start time for adolescents. I hope that Barrington will prove itself to be a leader, not a follower in moving forward with the later start time policy.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.